Posts Tagged Georgia

Israel helping Russia developed armed drone capacity??

Flightglobal is reporting that Israel is selling Russia technology that will help Russia develop armed drone capacity.

Russia approached Israel to buy drone technology after its brush fire war with Georgia a few years ago. Georgia had been armed with Israeli-made Hermes 450 surveillance drones that outperformed Russian ones. Russia forced Israel to abandon its huge arms sale to Georgia by threatening to arm Israel’s arch enemy Iran. Then the Russians asked Israel to sell them advanced drone technology, which it has done.

One wonders how the US feels about its ally arming a potential adversary like Russia with advanced techology that the US itself feels necessary to keep somewhat under wraps.


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Israeli UAV Sales to Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan has had Israeli drones since at least 2008, when they were seen in a public parade of that year. Then, in September 2011, an Azeri drone of Israeli origin was shot down over Nagorno Karabakh, territory disputed with Armenia. According to Gary Mortimer, writing in UAS News, the shooting down of the Hermes drone was a concern to the Israeli company due to the ease with with it was brought down by the Russian made Azeri warplane.

Also in September 2011, the Azeri government announced that it was building an Azeri drone built under license and based on the Orbiter and Aerostar UAV’s of Israeli Aeronautic Defense Systems.

Israeli made UAV’s being used by the Georgian military were also shot down by Russian forces in 2008 during the brushfire war between Georgia and Russia in that year.

In February 2012 it was announced that Azerbaijan would be buying drones and other military technology from Israel Aerospace Industries in a $1.4 billion deal. It isn’t clear how many drones would be involved, but would involve IAI’s Searcher and Heron 1 models.  Azerbaijan already had more than sixty drones of various sizes, none of which are known to be armed. It isn’t clear how it plans to use such an extensive surveillance capacity.

The relationship of Azerbaijan and Israel was recently analysed by Mark Perry, writing in Azeri Report, with respect to the conflict and potential military confrontation between Israel and Iran and Azerbaijan’s role in it.

2011 purchases of Israeli military technology amounted to almost a quarter of Azerbaijan’s TOTAL government revenues of $7.8 billion in 2011. With another purchase from Israel in 2012 estimated to be $1.6 billion, Israel is becoming a major recipient of Azeri military expenditures. Israel uses its trade relationship with Azerbaijan to buy oil and (according to recent rumours) to acquire access to Azeri airfields abandoned by the Russians. US officials are apparently worried that the Israeli control of Azeri airfields will enable the Israeli military to more easily make unilateral attacks on Iran.

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Georgia-Israeli Relations Go Into Reverse

Prior to 2008, Georgia and Israel had warm relations, said to be strengthened by Jewish Georgian politicians that had strong ties to Israel. Israel made a large arms sale to Georgia, but cancelled much of it when Russia threatened to ship arms to Israel’s mideast enemies.  Since the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia, relations between the two countries have continued to sour. Although Georgia is a small country it is strategically important, and what has been happening is an critical part of the geo political manuevering in the region.

This analysis by Michael Hikari Cecire in Eurasia Review covers all the bases.

The intrigue surrounding Georgia-Israel relations just got even more interesting. This is not in reference to the Rony Fuchs trial and conviction or even the recently-leveled allegation by Israeli defense manufacturer Elbit Systems that the Georgian government owes them USD $100 million for unmanned drones it acquired. Rather, the latest news is that Global CST, an Israeli security services firm that once had training contracts with the Georgian military prior to the August 2008 war, looks to be hunting for contracts with the de facto Abkhazian government. (Read the remainder here) 

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Elbit Systems Sues Georgia

Elbit Systems has announced that it is suing the government of Georgia for recovery of $100 million unpaid following an arms deal. It is suing in the High Court of Justice in the UK.

Georgia is believed to have purchased about 4o Hermes 450 drones, of which between three and seven were shot down in a conflict with Russia in 2008. These are probably the arms allegedly not paid for by Georgia, although various reporters haven’t been successful in getting Elbit to confirm this.

Relations between Israel and Georgia appear to have deteriorated sharply in recent years. At one point Israel was going to sell Georgia $500 million in arms, but withdrew most of these when Russia threatened to arm Israel’s arch enemy Iran. Then Georgia used its Israeli drones in a war with Russia.

Following the war, impressed with the Israeli drones, Russia started making overtures to Israel to acquire Israeli drone technology.

There were several figures in the Georgian government with strong ties to Israel, but it isn’t clear where they stand with Israel at this point.

Georgia recently convicted an Israeli businessman of bribery and sentenced him to jail and a colleague to a large fine. The businessman claimed that it was a plot to make him cancel his multi million dollar claim against the Georgian government. The conviction, which is not likely to be the final disposition, is the culmination of a long series of charges and countercharges which has wracked relations between Georgia and Israelis, even drawing in Israeli President Shimon Peres, who phoned the Georgian President to ensure that the Israelis were treated well.

There are claims that Russia has pressured Israel not to sell further arms to Georgia, in return for Russia not arming Israel’s key enemies. Apparently this would not preclude Israeli companies from selling small arms to Georgia’s Interior Ministry.

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Israel Sell Drones To Russia, Building Leverage

In the 2008 war with Georgia, Russia found its military drones and surveillance ability badly outclassed by the Israeli drones used the Georgians. Without a domestic drone programme capable of competing with the available foreign technology, the Russians decided to negoitiate with Israel for up to date drones. Thus Israel managed to sell drones to the Georgians, and then provoke even more sales to the enemies of the Georgians.

In 2009, the Russians bought 12 small drones from the Israelis, 2 Searcher drones, 8 MK 150, and two Bird Eye, and were continuing to negotiate. This from Defence Update:

“While the Hermes 450 is the mainstay of Israel’s tactical UAS forces and has provided the baseline for the British Watchkeeper UAV program, the Searcher II is considered less sensitive, as it has already withdrawn from active service with the IDF and has been offered in the surplus market. The Bird-Eye 400 could also be considered as non critical technology, as it is not used by the IDF. The I-View, previously selected for Australia’s tactical UAV program (which was recently cancelled) is also looking for a new start and Russia could become important for the system’s future.”

In June, 2010, major negotiations between Israel and Russia over a plan to build drone factories in Russia stalled. The project would have cost between $300 million and $400 million. This is in line with the strategy voiced recently by the IAI chairman that Israel would build factories to produce drones in situ, rather than exporting the physical hardware. Apparently the foreign ministry and the Prime Minister’s office balked at providing Russia with advanced technology it didn’t have, specifically the ability to build very silent drones. (Source)

The Russians hoped to buy 50 drones, mostly Herons from Israeli Aerospace Industries. They openly said they would reverse engineer these drones, to provide updated technology for their existing drones. By September the plan had changed, and the Russians and Israelis had agreed that Russia would buy 36 drones at a cost of $100 million. And the deal to build Israeli drones in Russia was back on the table, with the details to be hammered out.

In this deal, the Israelis drones would be built by the Russian company Oboronprom, at a helicopter manufacturing plant in Tatarstan, using Israeli parts. The market for the drones would be civilian. The Russians would pay $280 million up front and the remainder when the components are delivered.

Other Russian agencies are trying to buy Israeli drones. The Russian FSB was negotiating to buy its own drones for surveillance purposes, having failed to find a domestic source. Their choice was a drone supplied by Aeronautic Defence Systems.  But by September 2010 the FSB declared itself satisfied with the domestic UAV choices.

Clearly the Israelis have multiple objectives dealing with the Russian. Not only is Russia a huge potential customer, but the deals give Israelis leverage to influence Russian arms sales to Israel’s enemies.

In September, the Israelis threatened once again to derail the joint production deal, in an attempt to persuade Russia not to sell Yakhont naval missiles to Syria.  In October, at least one source claimed that the $400 million contract had been signed. No other details appear to have emerged.

Defence Daily News has a lengthy summary of these interactions.

In September 2010 it was announced that 50 Russian servicemen were being trained to operate the 12 Israeli drones so far delivered.

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Drones Often Violate Airspace

Drones give nations impunity to overfly other nations air space.

Surprisingly, many states have been overflying their neighbour’s territory with some level of impunity. Israel has overflown Lebanon, and left its drone there for many hours, before departing. Hizbollah has flown drones many times over northern Israel, to the embarrassment of the Israeli military. In 2006 the Israelis shot down at least two Hezbollah drones.

Georgia has overflown South Ossetia, which it claims, but which is controlled  by Russia. Here is a video of a Russian MIG shooting down a Georgian UAV, apparently over South Ossetia in 2008.

The US regularly overflies Pakistan with drones, and indeed launches deadly attacks from them. At least two US drones have been shot down recently over North Waziristan.

In 2009 the US shot down its own out of control Predator drone before it entered Tajikistan.

Iran has overflown Iraq, and had at least one drone shot down by US forces. US forces claimed the trespass was intentional, Iranian and Iraqi officials claimed it was an accident.

Why are there so many violations of airspace, using drones? Are they more likely to be used than manned aircraft? Clearly many drones are surrepticious, difficult to detect, and difficult to shoot down because of their size, especially without collateral damage on the ground. Because most drones are clearly for surveillance, the country sending the drone may feel they can get away with incursions even if detected, because they are a ‘minor’ threat.

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Georgian Drones Still an Issue

Georgia’s use of Israeli drones helped to provoke a five day war with Russia in 2008. Apparently Georgia is still using drones to overfly South Ossetia, a territory claimed by Georgia, but which is under Russian control. Presumably these are Israeli made drones acquired recently from Israel in a deal that went bad.

Russia and Georgia have recently exchanged charges that each over flies its territory regularly, using drones.

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A Larger Motive? Why Did Israel risk so much for Georgia?

On the face of it, it is puzzling that the Israeli Defense Ministry would go so far out on a limb as to heavily arm a tiny country with little value as an ally for Israeli, while risking provoking Russia, a country that could do it immense harm. Was it the chance for big money in arms sales? Was it the undue influence in the Defense Ministry by people either with Georgian connections, or the opportunity to profit?

It has also been suggested that in return for Israeli assistance, that Georgia might have been willing to provide airbases useful to Israel should it decide to attack Iran. Since Georgia is near Iran, with only western friendly Armenia intervening, there would be little problem of diplomatic problems being caused by overflights.

However during the conflict between Russian and Georgia, these airfields were severely damaged, along with infrastructure. As well, Israeli drones and their communication and control equipment were captured. The act which precipitated the Russian move was Georgian drones, (supplied by an Israeli company and operated by Israelis) which overflew Russian controlled territory. But these drones also overflew Iranian territory.

Most of the Israeli military and intelligence staff working in Georgia were reservists working for Global CST, a company owned by former IDF Brigadier General Israel Ziv, and Defense Shield,  owned by former IDF Brigadier General Gal Hirsch. Why were such high ranking former Israeli military staff working in Georgia? Was it just for the money? Or were they part of a larger Israeli enterprise to secure Georgian facilities for an attack on Iran? Quite likely the Russians believed that the presence of these individuals signalled the covert intentions of Israel and the US. (Much of this information comes from an article by Brian Haring, 17 August, 2008, although some of the interpretations are mine).

The same article suggest that an irate CIA employee, complaining of excessive Israeli influence in the agency, passed on information relating to the presence of Israeli operatives in Georgia to the Russians, and seems to imply that this encouraged the Russians to destroy Georgian facilities, thereby heading off a strike on Iran by Israel.

It is also clear that Georgian and Israeli interests are linked because Israel gets a large amount of oil from Azerbajan, via a pipeline through Georgia. Israel would like to have the opportunity to acquire more oil and reexport to regions beyond. (reference)

More info, Time Magazine article,

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Role of former Israeli Defense Ministry Staff in Georgia Debacle

The Postman Patel blog describes how Brigadier General Gal Hirsch resigned from his command in the Israeli military after being blamed for the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers which are alleged to have precipitated the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. Hirsch then set up Defensive Shield, a mercenary company set up to train soldiers and mercenaries.  Defensive Shield had a contract with the Georgian Defense ministry to train Georgian soldiers, with the approval of the Israeli Defense Ministry.

The Postman Patel blog repeats accusations that at the end of training these soldiers were ill prepared for combat with the Russians, and that many lost their lives and were captured, taking with them valuable secret Israeli Defense Force documents relating to training.

After the Georgian conflict Hesbollah gloated, noting that the same commander who had failed to defeat Hesbollah was now implicated in the defeat of the Israeli trained Georgians, by the Russians.


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More On Israeli-Georgian Co-operation

Georgia/Israeli involvment began about 2001, when Georgians who had moved to Israel pointed out to Israeli arms companies the relatively large budgets available in Georgia to purchase arms. As well, the Georgian defense minister, was Jewish and Hebrew speaking, with close ties to Israel. A close working relationship developed followed by substantial arms trade. Deeply involved were arms traders formerly officials in the Israeli Department of Defense. (Source) 

In 2004, Israel’s Elbit Systems and Georgia’s Tiblisi Aerospace Manufacturing (TAM) teamed up to ‘westernise’ a Soviet-era jet, the Sukhoi SU-25KM, still produced at Tiblisi. This would give it modern electronic and navigation equipment compatible with western produced avionics systems.

By 2008, close cooperation was paying off for Israeli arms traders. Georgia had placed orders for 70 million rounds of ammunition, Merkava tanks, Armoured Personel Carriers, helicopters, (weapons) fire control systems, drones, and night vision devices.

But when Georgia used Israeli drones to do surveilance in Russian controlled territory, the Russians became very angry, and the Israel Foreign Ministry among other pressured to Defense Ministry to stop sales of offensive weapons. In August 2008, Israel received an indirect but very clear warning from Russia that if Israel continued to supply Georgia with weapons, Russian would review its policy of not supplying weapons to certain of Israel’s adversaries. Israel stopped approving sales of contentious weapons to Georgia.

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